California is a big state with big influence. Yet it isn’t the sheer number of voters in all those gerrymandered congressional districts that makes California a political trendsetter; it is the fact that in California there is always Plan B.
The recall was Plan B. Less than perfect, perhaps, but just remember that then-Governor Gray Davis was Plan A.
Now Governor Schwarzenegger is looking at another Plan B. Arnold worries the old bulls in California’s legislature will block his agenda as he begins to bring state government under control. (The state’s term limits law does not fully sweep out these incumbents, some having served 25 and even 30 years in office, until the 2004 elections. It’s not fast enough, but it is coming.)
The legislature is as much despised by voters as Gray Davis was and, collectively, as petty and self-serving as well. Arnold can use the bully pulpit of the governor’s office to rouse the voters, but will legislators listen to the people?
Dan Walters, dean of the state’s political journalists, fears mere public opinion won’t sway legislators because, "…with very few exceptions, legislators are in absolutely no danger of losing their seats, no matter how much public anger Schwarzenegger is able to generate, due to a bipartisan gerrymander of the Legislature's districts two years ago."
So Governor Terminator prepares. Should the legislature block his agenda, Arnold will go over the heads of legislators and directly to the people using the state’s citizen initiative process. Schwarzenegger passed his own initiative in 2002 to fund after-school care. Interestingly, the initiative contained a provision delaying the funding of the program if the state was in difficult financial straits-—a wise bit of forethought seldom seen in capitol buildings.
California’s Plan Bs come via the "if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself" processes of voter initiative, referendum and recall. These measures empower any voter in a state to propose new laws, put statutes passed by the legislature to a statewide vote, or remove an elected official. Citizens petition their fellow voters to demonstrate enough support to place the issue on a statewide ballot.
Granted, such petition drives are not easy, most fail and most measures that make the ballot are then defeated. But, at least citizens have a crucial safety valve to reassert control over their government when necessary.